In 1981 Richard Cordukes, an up-and-comer of Australian Para-athletics, was out to make a mark at his first Stoke Mandeville Games in England.
Forty-two years later, at a Paralympics Australia Pin Project ceremony in Brisbane, Cordukes whimsically recounts how at those Games he unexpectedly became one of the first Australians to play what is now one of most popular Paralympic sports.
“These Canadians came to me and said ‘Do you want to learn this new game?’ They called it ‘Murderball’,” he said.
“I thought ‘Oh yeah, sounds good. How does it work?’ They said it was like ice hockey and they’d show us how to play. They just wanted me to get a few people together.
“So I got [teammates] Quinny (Michael Quinn), Mick Desanto and Peter Hill and the four of us went on the court. It’s all very questionable, none of it’s documented, but we ended up playing the Canadians and bashed the shit out of them. Then we all came off the court and said ‘Let’s go have a beer’.”
Quinn, also at the Brisbane Pin Presentation, nods in agreement. After playing in that game against the Canadians he went on to win four medals at the 1984 Paralympics in athletics and swimming. Then, in 1991, he was selected to the first Australian wheelchair rugby team to tour internationally.
Nearly 20 years after that first Murderball game, Cordukes watched the Sydney 2000 Games in amazement.
“When the rugby was on there I thought ‘Are you kidding me? How did this all happen?’ The game was nothing and then all of a sudden it was bigger than the basketball.”
Cordukes won two athletics medals at the 1988 Seoul Paralympics, where he became Australian Paralympian No.254. At the Brisbane Pin Presentation, he and 13 other athletes who competed at the Games between 1968 and 1988 received official confirmation of their place in history. The Pin Project now moves to 1992 and beyond, having started with the athletes who competed at the 1960 Stoke Mandeville Games in Rome, which became known as the first Paralympic Games.
It’s been an emotional ride. Some athletes had passed away and were represented by relatives. Some others chose not to attend or weren’t able to be contacted. For many who did attend, it was a homecoming of sorts, a re-connecting with teammates and a Movement with whom they share a rare bond.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect initially but I feel now that the Pin Project ceremonies have been incredibly valuable for everyone involved,” said Australian Paralympic Team Chef de Mission Kate McLoughlin, who has been hosting the nationwide events.
“There have been laughs and some tears. There have been so many fascinating stories that have helped to grow our knowledge of what Paralympic sport is all about and deepen our respect for those who paved the way for our current athletes.”
Among those athletes is Ryley Batt, the two-time Paralympic wheelchair rugby gold medallist and World Champion, who presented the Pins at the Brisbane ceremony.
“It can be quite easy to forget about the pioneers, the people who built this path for us,” Batt said.
“Having these players here from the Paralympic Games before I was even born is something really special.
Hearing some of the stories about how tough it was for them to get there, how the only recognition they got was maybe a snippet or two in the newspaper, it makes me feel very grateful to them for the life they’ve given to us Paralympians today and for what I’ve been able to experience in my career.”
Batt said the Pin Project was an opportunity to rekindle the sense of community he feels is central to Paralympic sport.
“I know Richard very well and it was good to give him a hug when he came in today. We’re very fortunate to have some of the retired players come along to our games when we play in Australia.
“They’re very important to me. Wheelchair rugby is something I’ve been involved in for 20 years and I just want to help grow the sport more and hopefully stamp my legacy the way they did. Maybe in 30 or 40 years I can talk about wheelchair rugby the same way they have.”
By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 29 March 2023